Austin Teen Book Fest 2013, or where all my money now lives.

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Oh, Austin Teen Book Fest, how I adore you. Your incredible panels. Your many fangirl opportunities. How you get me and all the other YA booknerds to the paper and ink core. Where all the books are so intriguing that my credit card was smoking by the time I left for home.

It was a good weekend, starting with the drive down where my sisters-in-law and I covered a wide range of topics including, but not exclusive to, Jon Snow, Doctor Who, ambition, husbands and children, book crushes (more Jon Snow, Four, Gansey, and all the others talk here) etc., and so on. We stopped in West, Texas for some delicious goodness. Some of you may remember West from the news a few months back, but we who’ve made the drive to Austin before, know West as the magical place where the Czech Stop and all the kolaches exist to help us on the road.

We look happy because kolaches in our hands, book festival in our future.

We look happy because kolaches in our hands, book festival in our future.

The sky was weird and wonderful as we drove into a storm, and then promptly out of it again. So, when the clouds broke somewhere near Temple, Texas and a rainbow lit up the gray, we felt as if it was for us and our fellow book loving travelers.

Rainbow, pretty.

Rainbow, pretty.

We arrived in Austin, our spirits and anticipation high, and wandered 6th Street for food and drink, before hitting the sack in preparation of our early rise the next morning.

We walked to the Austin Convention center the next morning, coffee in hand and some more kolaches in our stomachs, and quickly found our seats. My sister-in-law, Celestine agreed to save seats while my other sister-in-law, Stephanie and I checked out the Book People set up across the Exhibit Hall.

You must realize, when I say “checked out”, I mean “gathered under arms until there was no more room and we had to come back later for a second round.” After some panels, because the start of the festival chased us from the Book People to our seats.

I’m going to take a moment here to make sure it’s completely clear how very hard I fangirl Maggie Stiefvater. At some point I will expand on this, maybe with a sonnet and some Maggie Stiefvater book + Me reading it = My Happy Place art, but for now, just know, I think she’s the bees knees.

Maggie Stiefvater rocks!

Maggie Stiefvater rocks!

And she is as fabulous in person as I hoped. Her speech was about being fearless, and how she isn’t, but really is, but not actually, and we all can be too. I actually saw her in the hallway going from one panel to another and had to force myself not stop her. They didn’t want us to, and I would have been hopelessly awkward had I tried, because I get tongue-tied pretty completely by authors I adore. Case in point: I’ve seen Rae Carson three times in person, met her twice, and still have to use my “I will not kiss her” mantra whenever I see her milling around after panels.

I don’t know why.

Back to the Festival. The day was then in full swing, and my group and I, which we added to after Maggie’s Key Note, when we ran into Dallas booknerds Cherie “Little Libba” Stewart and Britnee DeJong. They are what Austin Teen Book Fest is truly about, youngish readers who can’t seem to stop buying, reading, and discussing books.

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The Into the Heart of Darkness panel featured authors Holly Black, Jon Skovron, Mari Mancusi, Robin Wasserman, and April G. Tucholk and was moderated by Dallas-Fort Worth author and Evil Genius, Victoria Scott. The theme was all things devilish and dark, and the authors really got into it. There was a Devil Horn headband, which was passed around between the authors whenever they said something particularly gruesome or black-hearted.

Next we trucked our books and selves back to the Exhibit hall for Fierce Reads vs. Dark Days, which was a game-show style panel pitting the authors from the Fierce Reads Tour and the Dark Days tour against one another. I am a Dark Days girl myself, our house is Slytherin, our chant, a Hiss. I may be biased, but I think the Dark Days ladies killed it.

Grainy pic of the Dark Days authors!

Grainy pic of the Dark Days authors!

Lunchtime! I watched the panel featuring — not eating because I tend to starve myself when excited and nervous — Rob Thomas, creator of Veronica Mars and YA author, and Sarah Dessen, moderated by lovely and eloquent author Lauren Myracle. As a writer of both screenplays and novels, I especially enjoyed listening to Rob Thomas talk about Kickstarter, writing for TV, and maintaining your sane in the crazy of Publishing and Film.

The day was broken up and distracted by getting to meet some cool people I’d connected with online, including Austin based writer and musician Courtney Howell, and the author of the forthcoming novel The Truth About AliceJen Mathieu, whose book you should all put on your TBR pronto, as well as chatting with an agent I respect whose clients I adore.

Us, keepin' it classy with the help of one of the fabulous bookmarks for her book.

Us, keepin’ it classy with the help of one of the fabulous bookmarks for her book.

My afternoon was filled with talent and awesome, on the Powers Strange and Perilous panel with Maggie Stiefvater, Robin LeFevers, Lisa McMann, Cinda Williams Chima, Melissa De La Cruz & Michael Johnston, and moderated by Texas author Rosemary Clement-Moore. The panel spent a lot of time discussing power, real or imagined, and how it can be used in fiction. As a fantasy writer I was enthralled, and intent to soak up all the knowledge they were handing out for free.

Somewhere in there I ate, and then went to buy all the books I’d been noting during panels that I couldn’t live without, plus some literary themed jewelry and another Diet Coke.

The last panel we enjoyed was moderated by local superstar and author of the forthcoming Side Effects May Vary, Julie Murphy, and appropriately titled I Made You a Mixtape. Contemporary YA is not my main subgenre of interest, but this panel featured some just stunningly talented and well-spoken Contemporary writers. Sarah Dessen, Trish Doller, Lauren Myracle, Sara Farizan, and Leila Howland engaged the audience by opening up to questions immediately, and giving funny, but frank, answers when the questions naturally turned to sex, love, and boys in YA.

Holly Black closed the festival with a fabulous, funny, mandated inspiring and tear-jerking by Maggie Stiefvater, speech with accompanying Vampire related slides. At one point she shared some of her vampire research, saying, “If you are running from a vampire, drop loose poppy seeds behind you. Vampires have to stop and count them. Makes me wonder if that’s where this guy comes from.”

Maybe?

Maybe?

Signings ended the day. We divided to conquer. And conquer we did.

A suitcase full of books.

A suitcase full of books.

I particularly love the Austin Teen Book Fest for bringing together so many wonderful and diverse writers, and giving readers a chance to discover lesser known books or authors they might have overlooked in bookstores, while also fostering an atmosphere of camaraderie. Even the authors attending, there to promote their work and themselves, are first and foremost fans. We are all lovers of books, humans who recognize the power words possess, and young at heart no matter our age.

My reading future is...daunting...I mean, thrilling.

My reading future is…daunting…I mean, thrilling.

The Austin Teen Book Festival

September 29th was an especially awesome day in Austin for teen readers (and adults who pretend to be teen readers) and writers who want to write for those teen readers. I am the latter, and since my visit to Texas coincided with the festival, I thought, “What the heck?” Over 3,000 other truly cool people like me felt the same way, despite the soggy Austin weather. The Palmer Event Center was adorned in Texas stone and filled with lots of bathrooms (this may not seem like an important detail, but shove that many teens into one space and it totally becomes one).

My husband, as I said in my Keep Austin Weird! post, attended with me. He was cute, with his total oblivion to these books and really kickin’ Adidas tennis shoes. He sat with me, courteously listening and only getting on his computer when no one was looking. I owe him a thanks, because he also allowed me to wander and fidget around as necessary, preserving our awesome front row seats.

We got there on-time, 9 am, me still sucking down coffee and trying to pretend I was awake. Me and rainy mornings are not best friends. I like bed. I had received an email from the Festival staff that Neal Shusterman would not be giving the Keynote due to a family emergency. I was disappointed, and come the announcement to the kids, my feelings were shared. But, not to worry, Libbra Bray (check her out on Goodreads, and send me a friend request while you’re there) courageously stepped up in his place.

I had not read any of her books yet, after her speech I added like all of them to my TBR list. She was brilliance in the flesh. She opened her speech by donning a cape and wielding a light-saber to duel her quite theatrical husband in the dark. She then got serious, and thirsty, stating, “I need a little water. It’s thirsty work spearing people with a light saber. They don’t show you that in Star Wars, how dehydrated you get.”

She called her speech, which had 20 bullet points, “the complete history of everything I have ever learned to date, abridged.” With silly points like: “Change your underwear” or “When in doubt, Let’s order pizza, is probably a good answer” or the well received “Farts are always funny”. Within those, she also said things that carried weight for writers and readers alike.

One of my favorites was when she boldly informed everyone that “Tests are Bullshit!” Teens loved this, for the cussing and the content. When she began to talk about writing and revision saying, “First drafts are like presenting a false front. Revision is like your very best friend cutting that away. Writing is digging down to the very deepest, darkest place and then putting that on a page for everyone to read.” (That quote is slightly paraphrased.) When she segued into a personal anecdote about the time in her life when she experienced a horrific car accident that resulted in her face being almost irreparably wounded. This story was met with silence and awe, and then roaring support and understanding. She told it as a way to show how you can return from truly being broken, and it was powerful.

The Keynote speech ended with us (the teens, not me personally) putting on a rendition of Total Eclipse of the Heart, accompanied by a fog machine. It was thoroughly special.  Libbra Bray had a lot to say that was valuable and super entertaining. Also, she wore a DR.WHO t-shirt. This made her innately cool in my book. I did hear a few parents say, “She said bullshit a lot,” accompanied by their giggling teen, “Libbra Bray said Bullshit!”

I also attended the panel called “We’re not in Kansas Anymore”, featuring Bray, Sarah Rees Brennan, Leigh Bardugo, Rae Carson, Kami Garcia, and Margaret Stohl. This panel was exactly what I needed to hear. These authors discussed creating imagined worlds and how they formulated the magical forces in their worlds. They talked about research. They talked about Star Wars (Rae Carson is a Luke fan, as I was as a child. The others fell firmly on the side of Han.) One of my favorite quotes came from Margaret Stohl. She was discussing her readers. Her books are published in 48 countries, and when she was in Malaysia doing a panel much like the panel she was doing for these Austin teens, she met a sixteen year old girl who was about to be sent into an arranged marriage. She said, “As much as you guys here are my readers, this girl is too.” That was profound to me. A girl, living under law we in America would write fiction about as loathsomely barbaric, is reading and connecting with this literature. She is finding herself there. That is a testament to the power of the written word.

I volunteered in the afternoon, but as expected, the Teens had the blogging, twittering, tumblring down to a fine art, so I ended up directing traffic. I was just glad to lend a hand, and chat a little with the teenagers and observe them like the total weirdo I am. I especially liked to watch the Dads who had been dragged their by their daughters. It was adorable. (And not unlike my knight-in-shining-armor husband.)

Overall, the Festival was a great experience, and one I hope very soon to be experiencing from the other side. Thank you Austin Public Library Friends Foundation and Book People for putting on such an awesome, free event! Here are pics. I didn’t get a lot because I was recording voice memos in my phone while listening to the panel, and I am a socially awkward penguin when it comes to asking for photos. I putter and blush.

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Keep Austin Weird!

This post will be brief because I just arrived in Austin, TX for the Austin Teen Book Festival and I’m tired from watching my husband drive. My husband is very kind to attend this with me as he himself is not so much a reader of YA, but a supporter of my desire to be a writer of YA (not to mention my fangirling of all things YA), and I am not a great driver.

Phew! I have not been to Austin since the Thanksgiving before we moved to New York. The Texas Hill Country is one of my favorite landscapes in the US to view. If you have never been to the Hill Country, you really, really should. Upon exiting I-35 for our hotel in Downtown Austin, we were greeted by a pack of peaceful petitioners for the legalization of marijuana in Texas, and the US overall. They also carried a sign for us to HONK if we agreed. Needless to say, in a city with a slogan about staying weird, and a major university, HONKERS abounded. Nice to know free speech still exists.

Tonight we’ll chill, for tomorrow I plan on absorbing as much knowledge and awesomeness as my brain can hold. (I don’t know if we come with an awesome threshold, I hope not.) I will also be working with the teens in the afternoon, so my energy must be at full-throttle. It’s a thrill for a YA writer to get to shoot-the-shit with a group of engaged readers in her target audience, in a city so completely strange and oddly old-school as Austin. I imagine much fun will be had by all tomorrow, the least of which, a humble, prospective author. Happy Friday to you, wherever you may be!